An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but what about a good massage? Or maybe some herbal tea? Or perhaps some meditation?
Conventional medicine has long been the dominant source for treatment and advice when it comes to keeping us healthy. In recent decades, however, there is an increased interest in expanding our ideas of healthcare and what it really takes to be well. As a result, people are beginning to integrate other approaches and techniques into their lifestyle.
Read on to learn what integrative medicine is and whether you should make it a part of your employee wellness program.
What Is Integrative Medicine?
Unlike traditional medicine, which uses a singular western approach to preventing and treating illness (and which focuses primarily on our physical system), integrative medicine looks at things more holistically.
Odds are, without even knowing it, you’ve practiced integrative medicine yourself on a small scale. For example, when catching a cold, you might take some vitamin C and then irrigate your sinuses using a neti pot. From there, you pop a zinc lozenge, cancel your plans for the day, and settle back into bed with a big pitcher of orange juice nearby to stay hydrated.
Integrative medicine looks at the big picture: Not only does it integrate different healthcare approaches, it also integrates the different areas of human wellness.
While traditional medicine may treat shoulder pain with muscle relaxers, for example, integrative medicine might treat it with muscle relaxers, acupuncture, and by examining the patient’s posture and any sources of emotional stress, to pinpoint the cause of the pain.
Why Integrative Medicine Works
At WellRight, one of our core principles is that wellness is not solely physical. What is happening with your mind affects your body and vice versa. If a person is suffering from financial unwellness, for example, they may experience physical symptoms of stress.
By looking at wellness as a complete mind-body system, integrative medicine addresses this concept. It does not reject traditional medicine, but simply says, “There are other things that work, too, and other factors beyond the obvious that are affecting this patient’s wellness.”
In addition, integrative medicine requires the patient and practitioner to be partners, opening up the discussion about whole-body wellness and complementary therapies. Fortunately, many physicians embrace this model, examining contributing factors and not just symptoms, while also being open to (or actively referring to) alternative practices like massage therapy or nutritional counseling.
How to Fit Integrative Medicine into Your Employee Wellness Program
So, what is the best approach for an integrative approach in your employee wellness program?
See Employees as Holistic Systems
Your company has multiple systems that keep it running smoothly. Remember that your employees do, too. You cannot expect employees to enjoy peak physical wellness if management treats them in a way that creates massive amounts of stress. Nor can you expect them to be at peak mental performance if the office vending machine only offers a choice between a sodium bomb and a high-fructose corn syrup bomb.
To keep their systems running well, make sure your employee wellness program and wellness challenges address multiple systems of wellness: physical, emotional, financial, occupational, social, and purpose.
Improve Access to Complementary Medicine
It’s one thing to support the idea of integrative medicine, but employees may not have the financial wherewithal to turn the idea into action. If your health plan does not currently cover any type of alternative treatment, why not improve access by bringing the practitioners to them? Many massage therapists offer chair massage services, helping busy employees relieve stress and loosen tight muscles in quick sessions. Or, a lunchtime meditation session may help improve focus and inner balance. Trying to reduce smoking among staff? Consider bringing in a certified coach to help employees’ odds of success.
Encourage Employees to Take Charge of Their Wellness
While, as their employer, you obviously cannot and should not be providing your employees with medical advice, you can encourage them to develop a better relationship with the people who do give them medical advice: their physicians. Consider hosting a session on how to improve communication with healthcare providers, so that employees are empowered and more easily able to communicate their needs from a holistic point of view. By giving staffers the tools to develop an equal partnership with their providers, you encourage them to be open and transparent about their healthcare needs, improving the odds of positive health outcomes.
While “integrative medicine” may be a term that is unfamiliar to some, it really does just mean looking at the human body as a holistic system and choosing the best combination of health approaches to optimize wellness. By embracing an integrative approach in your employee wellness program, you can foster complete, full-person wellness while helping your employees become more in control of their health and their happiness.
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